Lost in all the talk about ballot initiatives this time around is Proposition 22, the Local Taxpayers, Public Safety, and Transportation Act. That's a long title, but what's it about?
In a nutshell, Prop 22 focuses on the deteriorating fiscal relationship between the state and local governments. Since the days of the famous (or infamous, depending upon one's point of view) Proposition 13 in 1978, local governments have lost more than $200 billion in revenues. The state has made up much of the difference by providing funds for county hospitals, police, fire protection and the other basic local government services.
Because of the budget crisis in recent years, state legislators and the governor have withheld funding for many local government programs. For the current fiscal year, state policymakers kept $5 billion otherwise designated for cities and counties, leaving local governments in a lurch.
Which takes us to Proposition 22.
If passed, Proposition 22 will force the state to share revenues for transportation, community redevelopment, and all the other local government services already established by law. Once again, local governments would have stable sources of revenue.
But there's a catch--if the state has to fork over those funds, what about current commitments? Won't California be $5 billion short, thereby increasing the perennial budget deficit? The answer is "yes" unless the legislature finds new revenue sources.
And that's the rub. Opponents cry that if Prop 22 passes, major spending areas such as public education, prisons and social services will be denied funding at a time when they have been cut beyond reason.
Some proponents counter that state government should have to learn how to do with less; other proponents hope that passage of Prop 22 will force legislators to collect more revenue.
That's what makes Proposition 22 so interesting. If it passes, the next fight will be between those who want to stretch paltry state resources without increasing taxes and those who believe that the state will have no choice but to find new revenues.
Now that should be interesting.